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June 2012

“Selling sand and aggregates from illegal mining operations is a criminal offence that deserves to be punished just like any other serious economic crime,” so says Nico Pienaar of the Aggregate and Sand Producers Association of Southern Africa (Aspasa), who is urging authorities to prosecute owners and operators of illegal mines and quarries. Despite clearly defined laws and regulations that govern the industry, illegal mining is still commonplace and the will to prosecute transgressors is non-existent.

“Illegal mining and quarrying operations have a massively unfair advantage over legal operators in the industry. They don’t pay royalties, tax or make any other statutory contributions to government to towards the sustainability of the industry. Nor do they need to observe safety, health, environment and quality legislation, which means they can expose their employees to inhumane working conditions, as well as cause untold damage to the environment without fear of retribution,” Pienaar adds.

The practice of illegal mining is not only confined to dubious cloak and dagger syndicates, but is also being practiced by certain municipalities and even some large-scale construction companies. “Whether these operators feel that they are above the law, or simply claiming to be ignorant, remains to be seen. Either way they are committing a serious crime that can no longer be ignored,” he says.

Change is coming

This is about to change following two recent constitutional court rulings that finally clarified the basic requirements to operate a mine or quarry in South Africa. The cases are against Swartland Municipality and Maccsand, where mining rights were granted prior to all zoning or environmental requirements being satisfied. As a result protracted legal battles ensued, which tested the roles of local, regional and national government departments in allowing such mining operations to go ahead.

In both cases the court ruled that mining operations may only go ahead with the necessary permission from local government departments based on land use and the correct zoning of land. In addition, regional and national environmental legislation needs to be obtained and observed for the life of the mine.

“In summary it means that all legal requirements need to be met on a local, regional and national level and that the granting of a mineral rights permit does not mean that all other legal requirements are superseded. As an association we are heartened by the verdicts and all illegal operators to comply with the laws of the land or face possible criminal prosecution,” Pienaar states.


The 2012 South African Mining Lekgotla, taking place from 4 to 5 June and organized by the Chamber of Mines, the National Union of Mineworkers and the department of Mineral Resources will be aligned to the Mining Industry Growth Development and Employment Task Team (MIGDETT). It is being convened to explore, set and drive a sustainable growth agenda for the sector over the next decade and beyond.

The event is expected to be gathering of major players in the South African mining industry and will attempt to find solutions to problems facing the industry by creating various scenarios for the future.

Chamber of Mines chief executive, Bheki Sibiya, says the Lekgotla’s main goal is for mining industry leaders to identify and deal with issues such as risks, competitiveness, social pressures and growth opportunities. “All these key issues need to be understood to enable the industry to achieve optimal returns on investment, and a manner that will serve the best medium and long-term interests of all South Africans,” he explains.

“The fact that three of the major social partners in the mining sector have come together to find solutions to future challenges augurs well for the industry, as each grouping brings unique insights, understandings and inputs to the table.”

Some of the issues to be looked at include options for nationalisation, acid mine drainage, and beneficiation opportunities, learning about key cross cutting dynamics in the industry, leveraging on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) partnerships, globalization, carbon taxes and related environmental issues and health and safety challenges.

Sibiya says there is no other event that can compare to the Mining Lekgotla, as it will be a meeting of South Africans putting South Africa first, by developing thought leadership required to build the knowledge, skills, attitudes and values for a future sustainable mining industry.


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